Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Weight Watchers" by Thomas McGuane

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker...in the hopes that it balances out my otherwise neanderthal tastes. 

Issue: Nov. 4, 2013

Story: "Weight Watchers"

Author: Thomas McGuane

Plot: A young-to-early-middled aged man's overweight father comes to stay with him while he's on a break from his mother, who has insisted the father lose weight or not come home. The visit causes the young man to re-examine his parent's occasionally-functional marriage and the ways his parents forced him to take on a lot of their emotional baggage. The young man describes his father as a ruddy, man's man type and his mother as solidly bourgeois and though they gave him a comfortable enough life, he is determined to stay single and never get emotionally involved with anyone.

Review: Kind of an odd turn for Thomas McGuane, although the story is still set in Montana and features a character who is outcast or broken in a comical way. The main character is someone whose situation would seem otherwise completely normal, but something within himself, some obstruction in his personality, will not give way and therefore he remains stuck. The main character, in that sense, is pitiable.

What I think is most interesting here is the term "weight watchers." This literally refers to the father's need to reduce his weight. But it also refers to the way that the son has determined to watch his "emotional weight" by never getting romantically involved with anyone.

It's a thought-provoking message and it probably describes the plight of a lot of people who come from seemingly upright, functional backgrounds, and yet choose not to get married and/or have children. It takes a lot of courage to love someone and to have children, but at the same time it also takes courage to go through life alone without those relationships. However, it would seem that the latter choice(s) carries with it a higher emotional cost.

There are some brief moments where the McGuane shines through here, but to me it seems like a rushed job. It doesn't have the carefully-wrought characters or the poetic quality that I'm used to from McGuane. I wasn't crazy about his last NYer story either, and I'm less crazy about this one. There's a good kernel of something here, I know that. But it strikes me that the story would've benefited from a few more times through the wringer.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…